Jan 24

Safe Snow Shoveling Tips to Prevent Low Back Injuries

snow-shovelingWith the beginning of a snowy winter, it is important to review safe snow shoveling practices to prevent physical injuries- especially lower back injuries. These injuries range from minor muscle and ligament strains/sprains to disc herniation’s and vertebrate compression fractures. Most of these injuries can be prevented by practicing safe snow shoveling techniques that can be easily adapted by everyone.

Pick the Right Shovel. The shovel should be light weight, and the blade should not be too large, otherwise the load will be too heavy, placing too much stress on your back. Also, the handle should be long enough so you do not have to stoop to retrieve the snow.

Shovel Frequently. By shoveling smaller loads over a longer period of time, there is less snow to shovel, making it easier on the lower back.

Warm-up. Snow shoveling is a physical activity and it is beneficial to warm up the joints and muscles. Take 5 -10 minutes, either walk around the block or march on the spot to get the body and circulation moving.  Take the time to do some gentle stretches for the back, such as knee to chest, body hug and touching your toes from a seated position. Now you are ready to shovel safely.snow shovel-resized-600.jpg

Push the Snow. Pushing the snow to the side of the driveway instead of lifting places a less compressive and side-ways load on the back. If you have to lift, avoid twisting and throwing the snow over your shoulder. It is much safer to position yourself in front of the pile, turn your feet in the direction of the pile and lift straight forward.

Bend your Knees and Use Your Legs. Your legs are a source of strength and power when you shovel and they can also help keep the lower back in a safe, neutral position. Therefore, bend your hips and knees as you push the snow to the side or when you have to lift a load of snow.

Take a Break. Once you start feeling tired, stop and take a rest. This allows the muscles to relax and for the joints to realign into a comfortable position. Take 2-3 minutes to stand straight up, stretch and take a short walk.

Listen to Your Body and Seek Physiotherapy. It is normal to feel mild muscle soreness in your back, legs and arms for up to two days after shoveling snow. It will feel like you completed a hard workout and normally all you have to do is rest, stretch and massage these sore areas.

However, if you feel any sharp pain in your lower back or if you continue to feel soreness three days after, it is recommended that you seek a physiotherapist for treatment. The physiotherapist will assess and treat your areas of pain and weakness before a more serious injury, such as a disc herniation, happens.

– Erika Turner, PT

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